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Wednesday March 26th  2014  Tim Candler

 

     In the 1850's the railway line from Hastings ran to a place called Ashford, which was over there in Kent. It passed through sparse populations of rural folk, some of them sheep farmers, and they had the manor houses, maybe they had May Poles, but probably not Morris Dancing or Wurzel Tossing, and the brighter sparks might have done a little smuggling or ship wrecking. And here it might be worth mentioning that of the counties in the South East of England, Kent is the place other South East Englander's go when they have a strong desire to become suicidal.  Also in the 1850's you could travel by train all the way from Hastings to Ashford and would not reach a railway station until you got to Winchelsea, which is in the parish of Udimore, which is fortunately still in Sussex, a little west of Rye, and depressingly close to the unmanned border between Sussex and Kent. The distance from Hastings to Winchelsea is about nine miles, and if you ever have to take the footpaths, it's about three hours to walk because there is a lot of up and down hill, angry country people and in 1960 something you might have come across the odd Rabbit struggling with the slow, horrible death that is mitsimitosis and you had to decide whether or not to bop it on the head with a rock. Then in the late 1880's the railway company decided to put in a couple of railway stations between Hastings and Winchelsea in order to try encourage the traveling public. Maybe even cause "Dormitory Towns" to mushroom so as to provide the railway with a little more income.  The reality of course, even back in the 1880's, few in their right mind ever traveled from Hasting to Ashford, and as well, landowners between Hastings and Winchelsea where kind of xenophobic and had no intention of letting anyone who might work in Hastings or Ashford live anywhere near them.  All the same railway company executives have long had an "if you build it they will come" mentality and that's how railway stations like Three Oaks and Guestling Halt, as well as Snailsmore Crossing Halt, and possible Ore, came into being.  In 1959, even without Dr Beeching's insistence, the railway closed Snailsmore Crossing Halt, because no one ever used it, and it looked  awkward on the balance sheet to support a station master, his wife and three children, for doing little more than yelling out  "Mind The Doors" a couple of times a day. But Three Oaks and Guestling Halt was a very different story, six times a year a tribal sortie on their way either to or from their homeland in the heart of south east Sussex, would detrain or entrain at Three Oaks and Guestling Halt.  There'd be a Bedford SB with seating for forty, not a vehicle that had necessarily been designed to negotiate the smaller roads and certainly not one that would risk a turn into Eight Acre Lane, which was the Three Oaks and Guestling Halt parking area. So the bus would wait, up near the Butcher's Lane bridge over the railway line, and sometimes cause a delay for other road users that might have been hoping to get to the Winchelsea Road or to do a little fishing on the lake at  Coghurst Hall.

    The Headmaster, deep in his mysterious past, must have developed an affinity with greeting trains at Three Oaks and Guestling Halt.  He'd always be there to participate in the ceremonial return of our tribe to the homeland. But he'd not be at Three Oaks and Guestling Halt at the end of a season. I suppose the thought of our absence from his day to day, filled him with a deep sadness, and it was this sadness as much as anything else which prevented him from giving us a "cheerio"  from Butcher's Lane Bridge each time we were sent back into exile. Exile, you should understand, was a kind of Valhalla for us tribes people, a chance to recharge and heal, stay up after eight o'clock in the evening, wander around in the night with out risk of detention, and maybe just lie there in bed until well after seven o'clock in the morning. Maybe also, while in exile, a tribesman might tell the odd tale around his school report, and have the odd dream about being chased through the London Underground by a cricket bat.  But at the beginning of the school term The Headmaster saw his chance to demonstrate enthusiasm. He'd be there at Three Oaks and Guestling Halt. And up where the Bedford SB was blocking a through-way, he'd have his Silver Dawn Rolls Royce parked. Silver Dawns were made in a place called Crewe, just a little south of Liverpool, were Saxon Mercian clans had settled following their defeat of the British Celts. Of Silver Dawns, only seven hundred or so of them ever rolled off the production line. Cost around five thousand pounds which today would mean something like spending a hundred and thirty thousand pounds on a motor vehicle, which  is getting up there towards two hundred thousand US dollars.  And an astute tribesman could often tell that a parent or two might be visiting the tribal homeland when The Headmaster's Silver Dawn was parked in School driveway instead of in its garage. Which might have been a cry for help on the part of The Headmaster, but all the same, tribesmen were greatly discouraged from getting to close to the Silver Dawn. Accidently touching it without express permission, could result in Latin detention, a language in which The Headmaster had a high level of proficiency and it was a language The Headmaster had a deep need to promote in others on the off chance that at some future time they might find themselves discovering a new species of living thing, or happen upon a new galaxy while staring at the night sky.  Then your French Master looks at you, notices that everyone is collecting their travelling bags and he confidently orders a detrainment. Three Oaks and Guestling Halt platform was usually sort of wet, because it had been poorly  thrown together by local South East Englanders, rather than the travelling bands of blood spitting Navvies, many of them from Ireland  and Wales, who actually built the railways. This meant there were puddles on the platform and a number of other ways a person could distress his school shoes.  But that beginning of term, if a person looked up from the platform, through the mist and drizzle, toward Butcher's Lane Bridge, they could see that someone had written the word "SPURS" in white paint on the brickwork.. 

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